There's no shortage of people who live in our town and dedicate time working as volunteers for causes they believe in and benefit all of us. 

Ilmar Vanderer is a prime example of a man who is passionate about making Montclair more historical, more beautiful and even more fun. He was a great interview, as he loves to chat as much or more than I do; he’s full of information and anecdotes.

Ilmar's family is originally from Estonia in Europe, across from Finland on the Baltic Sea and formerly part of the Soviet Union. He's lived in Montclair all his life. His parents were World War II refugees, moving to Sweden, Canada and then to the United States and to Montclair more than 50 years ago. 

Ilmar spoke Estonian at home, and first attended Nishuane School, where he learned English in the school’s English as a second language program. He preserves his Estonian heritage and culture by serving as a member of the board of directors at the Lakewood Estonian House, known as Lakewoodi Eesti Maja in his native tongue. 

It's a place to enjoy the special foods of his childhood and celebrate Estonian Independence Day in February and Independence Restoration Day coming up on Aug. 24, which began in 1991 after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union.

His love of reading and literacy is shown by his co-founding of Friends of the Bellevue Avenue Library, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to keeping the Bellevue Avenue branch open and alive. FBAL works in conjunction with the Montclair Public Library and the library trustees, as the library continues its second century of service to the community. 

The branch reopened in 2021 with limited service due to pandemic closures, and is once again fully operational and ready for those who love reading, or need to use computers for work or recreation. 

Ilmar, the president of the organization, said: “Reading is literacy and promotes what we need to be, for kids and adults. Libraries are so much more than books. I am a cheerleader and advocate for the library and all the good that the library brings us.” 

Mark your calendar for Musical Mondays, beginning in mid-July on the outside plaza of the Bellevue branch. Plans include expanding broadband service to the outside plazas of both libraries.

Ilmar's love of historic preservation was passed on to him by his architect father, evident in his focus on land and buildings in the First Ward. He received the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission's Conservationist Award in 2021. 

He is a devotee of the Bellevue Theatre and volunteers through using his local consulting company, The Word Is Out Communications, providing public relations and promotion to help reopen the renovated and updated site later this year. Look for a sign outside that says, “Coming soon. A theater near you,” a slogan he said was the witty brainchild of Deputy Mayor and First Ward Councilman Bill Hurlock. I checked with Hurlock, and he said, “It's my quote, all right.”

If that's not all, Ilmar also serves on the steering committee of Montclair Library Friends, which provides information about services offered and community volunteer programs. In his free time, he loves to travel and watch classic horror films, especially those starring Boris Karloff. 

He is currently directing a digital marketing campaign for expanded theatrical screenings and DVD release of the 2021 documentary “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster.” He's an altruist humanitarian with many interests, on the go around the clock.


There wasn't a way for me to easily or wittily transition from literacy to lobster, so I'll just jump in here. Who doesn't love lobster and shellfish? I do, and there's a new place in town, Mystic Lobster Roll Co., that's serving up fresh and delicious food, made to order.

Two sisters, Amanda and Amy Barakat, first tried to open their business on Valley Road almost a year ago. While waiting for the necessary inspections and licenses, it seemed that they would never see their dream come true. 

On June 11, 2022, they finally held their grand opening at 145 Valley Rd. and are working seven days a week to get the word out, fill rolls with lobster and prepare many other items on their menu.

Amy is Amanda's older sister by just 22 months, and the two of them make a perfect team. It's a long commute to Montclair from her home in Jackson Township, but she drives here at least two days a week. 

Mystic Lobster Roll Co. is part of a small franchise operation, with the first store opening in Brick. Amy said: "My family had a seafood and meat market on Long Beach Island, so I grew up in the business. We started selling lobster rolls there, and I trained by making different combinations. I love lobster.” I was shocked when she told me, “I never had a lobster roll before I tried one at another store."

Amanda lives in Belleville and attended Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, studying hospitality and restaurant management. As part of the curriculum, she had to take culinary classes, which included baking. 

She said: "I don't like baking, and I'm terrible at it. I am great at mixing up the broken-down and shelled lobster to make up our classic rolls, such as the Maine, with lobster meat mixed with mayo and scooped into a lightly buttered roll. Each order is carefully weighed and measured for consistency in servings.”

Both sisters make up orders, and Amy's also in charge of information technology and their social media accounts. 

They are full of enthusiasm and positivity, with plans to add more shrimp to the menu, along with the Mighty Mystic with double the lobster, Mystic meal combo deals and a special Date Night choice with two lobster rolls, two servings of soup and two pieces of pie. 

For now, they're just offering Key lime pie, but they are thinking of partnering with a local ice cream business and adding chocolate and fruit pies to the menu.

I can't leave out Canaan Dees, store manager, who greets everyone with a big smile. He's full of raw energy and chatter, which helps you pass the time as you wait to pick up your online order or place one to eat inside at the counters or at one of the outside tables. 

Used to preparing more than 500 meals a day at Discovery House, a residential inpatient facility, Canaan also worked at Sonic, cooking casual American fast food and mixing up shakes. 

He said, “I’m learning the business by working here and finding out how to run things from the front of the store to back in the kitchen.” 

I was charmed and amused by Canaan, who comically wore a lobster costume as a walking advertisement in front of the store during the grand opening. I gave him a new title, The Lobster Jester, which fits him to a T. 

Dedication and love of what they do is evident at this business, and I thoroughly enjoyed my order of shrimp and corn chowder when I got home. Interviewing is interesting, hard and hungry work.


In this article:

  • Ilmar Vanderer
  • Mystic Lobster Roll Co.
    145 Valley Road

Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She's written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director's Award of the Essex County Legacies Essay contest.